1 Timothy 5 - Care of Needy Widows

Chapter 5 of 1 Timothy is the longest passage in the NT on the issue of widows and the responsibility of the church towards widows.

I have already mentioned, there appears to be a connection of the false teachers with at least a few of the widows in Ephesus.

Because Paul is addressing this problem we get some details about widows that we would not know outside of this chapter.
This gives us an insight into how the NT church operated.

[Remember that most of the NT is written to address problems. This should give us hope when we find ourselves frustrated with church - there have ALWAYS been problems in the church...]

I am going to work through this text piece by piece because it is lengthy.

3 Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.

The first thing I notice is "give...to those widows who are truly in need."

In other words, the church is not to financially support every single widow. BUT there is a clear emphasis that caring for widows is understood to be the role of the church.

v5 The widow who is really in need and left all alone...

Paul makes it clear that family members must take care of their own.

Look at v4 again:
...if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.

In v8 he makes the very clear statement:
Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

I realize we have had economic difficulties in the last 20 years, but I think our desires to be prosperous has led our culture away from this concept of taking care of parents.

We have lost the concept of transgenerational living.
As a culture we preach financial management so that you are not left in need in your senior years.

While there is something good about that, we cannot lose the clear meaning of this text: we should care for our parents as they enter the twilight years of their lives.

I fear that we have traded family ties for financial prosperity.


Let's move on:
9 No widow should be on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband,
10 and is well known for her good deeds such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord's people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

Paul tells us here that the church has a "list" of widows.
What we learn in this chapter is that certain widows were being cared for by the church.

But it was NOT a free meal ticket.
The church cared for these widows, but the widows were providing services: hospitality, helping those in trouble, washing feet...

Listing washing feet in this text illustrates that this was a cultural practice...not some kind of ritual where we have a foot washing service.

In 2020 this would read, "she should provide hospitality, help those in need and clean their toilets."
It speaks of being a servant.

But this arrangement tells us something.
When we provide help for someone it is not supposed to be one-way charity. The receiving person should be giving service in return - it is a proper showing of gratitude.

[7 min]

I am about to repeat points I have already touched on in my previous messages...but I want to briefly focus on an interesting detail in this passage.

My hope is that you are learning more about the biblical text and how to think about it.

I fear that we get trapped in the mentality of wanting "relevant" messages - yes, we NEED to get a message of how does this impact me? - but we also desperately need to learn how to read the biblical text properly.

Most of us do not KNOW the biblical text well enough.
This is why I urge you to read the scriptures.

We need to read the text and THINK about it.
I want you to learn how to THINK about the text and QUESTION the text.

I have urged you to read 1 and 2 Timothy while we study these letters. If you had read just one chapter per day you could have read these letters 6 times by now!

This passage in 1 Timothy is a great example of a somewhat difficult text that needs a bit of time to think through.

Let's read the next section:

11 As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list.
For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry.
12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge.
13 Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house...they become...busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to.
14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.
15 Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.

This passage is where we get the idea that younger widows are involved with the false teachers.

I showed in our study of 1 John how the apostles would refer to false teachers in terms of the "antichrist" - in this passage Paul refers to them as "satan."

So we get the idea that these false teachers are likely using one or more of the "younger" widows...

it appears that these widows are financially sound or else they would not have the ability to be idle - in the ancient world if you do not have money you have to scratch and work for daily sustenance.

We know that traveling prophets would seek out the wealthy women of a larger city for their support.

How do you think Jesus and His disciples lived for those three years? Mary, Martha and Lazarus appear to have been one of the wealthy families that housed and fed them and supported their mission.

But it appears that these false teachers are taking advantage of some of the younger wealthy widows.

"For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry."

The emphasis here is on "sensual desires."
This makes Paul's statement that "Some have already turned away to follow Satan" a fairly clear reference to engaging in sexual activity with these false teachers.

[14 min]

In v9 Paul says the widows on the church support list should have "been faithful to her husband."

Just like the qualifications for leadership, here Paul uses a unique phrase...she must be a "one man woman."

This indicates faithfulness to a vow. Historically, we have read this as an injunction against divorce and remarriage.

I have always been taught this, yet as I said in an earlier teaching...I always had issues with that reading of the text, feeling it to be overly simplistic.

This text about widows is yet another example of WHY that is an overly simplistic reading.

v12 Pauls says that if these younger widows want to marry "they have broken their first pledge."

Again, we have simplistically read this in the English as supporting the vow of marriage.

But the Greek phrase is somewhat obscure.
The literal reading is actually, "she receives judgement by casting away the first faith."

This could mean several different things in this context.
To me...and this was confirmed by a few of the scholars I read, it cannot mean their marriage vow, because Paul urges these widows to remarry.

He is talking about giving themselves "to Satan" and thus casting away "the first faith."

This is a reference to giving themselves to the false teachers.
Not just to their teaching, but being involved sexually with these guys.

Paul actually follows Jesus here [and in 1 Cor 7] - in both places Paul makes allowance for divorce and remarriage...as does Jesus.

I want to be clear.
I am NOT saying that divorce and remarriage is fine and dandy.
I AM saying that a simple reading of the text can lead us to embrace a dogmatic stance that is not fully warranted.

If Paul had truly thought...as many of us have been taught...
that remarriage is ALWAYS breaking your first vow he would never urge these widows to get married.

Look...the writer of 2 Peter says that the "letters [of Paul] contain some things that are hard to understand."

This text is an example. Paul...or Luke...or whoever is actually putting pen to paper - uses some phrases that are not as clear as we would like.

Even early church writers soon after Paul who were proficient in Greek struggle with his meaning in various verses.

Difficult texts like this is why I have become less dogmatic as I have grown older and studied the text more diligently.


I have to wrap up the exegesis of the text.
What IS clear?

1. The church should help widows in need.

2. We are responsible to care for our parents until they pass.

3. If you cannot control your sexual urge as a single person you need to get married. Paul says this more than once.

4. Fidelity to your spouse is essential - it is a metaphor for your spiritual fidelity to Jesus.

Paul is most concerned with the younger widows in this context who are financially sound. They are targets for the false teachers and make it easier for them to spread their garbage.


What is the biblical text teaching us?

This entire chapter has several references for why we put a high value on work ethic in the Judeo-Christian world.

We are meant to work...we are meant to be co-workers with God in creation.

It is critical to teach your children to have a good work ethic.
Children should help in the yard...they should help clean the house...WORK is GOOD.

Able people should not live off the government...or the church.
We NEED to work. It builds character and gives us a sense of purpose and intrinsic value.

Adam and Eve were put to work BEFORE the Fall - they were given the task of caring for God's garden.


We should care for our aging family members.
We have people in this little church doing just that...and this is proper.

COVID-19 may be teaching our nation a lesson.
I read a study on Thursday that said 40% of the COVID deaths were in nursing homes.

I am not here to presume that I have the answers...
but I can tell you that transgenerational living is something we lack in our culture.

Family units of more than one generation living together.
This has been common throughout human history...
it remains normal in most of the world today...
except in the Western, more prosperous world.

Erick and Cheryl, some of you met them, were students in our Chi Alpha ministry at Alabama.

Erick is a veterinarian. He left his vet job and moved his family to a Muslim nation - to help the people care for their livestock.

They were loving it.
Erick's dad was stricken with dementia.
They were struggling with what to do...feeling the pull to return to the States to help care for his dad.

One day Erick told one of his Muslim friends that his father was very sick. The Muslim man urged him to return to the US to care for his father.

Maybe a week or so later Erick shared his struggle with a Turkish pastor, saying that he was struggling with whether he should leave his personal mission to go home.

The Turkish pastor said,
"You must go home and take care of your father. The people here will not respect you, nor listen to your message if they know you are staying here while your father is dying."

This is one message in this chapter.
Paul says we are worse than an unbeliever if we fail to care for our aging parents.


Women [and especially widows] have always had an important role in the church: in prayer, care of the needy, hospitality....

The church should take care of their needy people.
Historically the women have been the ones who make sure the church is doing the job.

We read in one of the early fathers that the church in the city of Rome, around the year 200 AD, cared for over 1,000 widows.


This text underscores what I have been teaching over the last few months:

We are meant for marriage...
We are meant for raising children...

Women raising children is clearly mentioned twice in this chapter.

Marriage...fidelity in marriage....and the family unit is God's picture to the world of His intention for His family and His people living in close relationship.

Caring for one another...
loving one another...
serving one another.

I will close with the words of Jesus from John 13:

34 A new commandment I give you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another.

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Troy Community Church
Christian Fellowship
1300 Henderson Highway
Troy, AL 36079